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8th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts:
 Inspiring Resilience
Carleton University, February 28, 2009

F e e d b a c k

I wanted to write to say thank you for an inspiring day. I cannot remember the last time that speakers held my attention for seven hours! Each speaker was not only informative but entertaining. They were all articulate, and passionate speakers on their topic. The New Sun Conference is one of the few venues for raising awareness of Aboriginal arts and cultures that is accessible to so many people. Thank you for all your hard work and I look forward to many more years of New Sun Conferences. WL

 

Thank you for your work with the New Sun Conference. It was excellent. I greatly enjoyed the part I attended and saw the audience did as well. Please accept my warm congratulations on a successful event.  Roseann O’Reilly Runte, President, Carleton University

 

Congratulations on yet another marvelous New Sun Conference. I enjoyed it thoroughly, from start to finish. John Osborne, Dean of Arts and Social Sciences.

 

What if we could live in a world where everyone’s humanity, both commonalities and differences, was acknowledged and celebrated? What if we could respect alternate ways of ‘knowing’ about the world, ways that emphasize connection, flow, inclusiveness, respectful exploration? A world where both empirical and intuitive ways of knowing are valued…this would be my wish. The New Sun Conference was able to provide an inkling of what such a world might feel like. JK

 

I loved the day. Don Kelly showed the funny side of contemporary culture – I liked his term “cement Indian.” He is funny because of the incongruity of someone born on a reserve who has no wilderness skills and is entirely self deprecating about it. I loved the passion that Steven Loft brought to the discussion of institutions and culture – he is a passionate advocate and entirely fearless given his position. Tom Jackson is a great performer and a good story teller too. Shaneen Robinson brought a more youthful perspective on identify. She was so honest, so direct and heartfelt, she just brought us into her story. Lastly, Michael Massie, the Inuit artist – his creations are spectacular, and such a vibrant mix of traditional and modern. I was knocked over by his work, it is like nothing I have ever seen before. Lastly, my friend [Elder] Jim [Albert] brought a needed moment of reflection on all that we were learning. It was a day of intensive learning, all the parts fitting together marvelously. As I said, I just loved the day. Thanks so much. AM, School of Social Work, Carleton University

 

This was my first time at the New Sun Conference and it was absolutely wonderful. I am a part-time student at the University of Manitoba, majoring in Native Studies (distance education). I realize that I can only learn so much from books. I, therefore, need to go out and see and meet Aboriginal peoples, and engage in conversation. Your choice of speakers was great. Don Kelly was truly funny. I found he offered a wonderful way of teaching the many gifts Aboriginal peoples have. Steven Loft was a wonderful speaker as well. He offered a very different format, however, equally as effective as Don Kelly. There was a little edge in some of his comments and I appreciated his candidness. Shaneen Robinson provided a little different perspective. It would be nice to see her play come to life one day. Of course, the lunch was fabulous and Tom Jackson was a real treat. He was a wonderful speaker. Mr. Massie showed such a wonderfully unique art, that, again, was great. I really enjoyed listening to the speakers and hearing what they had to say. I plan to come again next year, unless we move. (We’re a Military family). DG

 

I had a great time at the conference on Saturday; the speakers were wonderful. I particularly enjoyed Shaneen Robinson. I like your choice of speakers in the way that you bring together emerging writers/artists with established writers/artists. It creates a feeling of dynamism, of growth and moving forward. I hope your semester is going smoothly and now you can have a bit of a break with the conference completed -- and so successfully. It goes from strength to strength. ADS

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the conference. I copied the handout that you made for [my colleagues] and I am meeting with them in April to discuss whether or not they could create something similar for Coast Salish land. I thought it was an extraordinary event and I am only sorry that you are not closer. I have also recommended Tom Jackson for an honourary degree at UVic. .... Wow, wasn’t he great! I have always loved Tom Jackson but seeing him at close quarters increased my respect even more. Allan, you are a great gift to Carleton and the place where you step these days. I send you every blessing for your many endeavours. CH, Department of History in Art, University of Victoria 

 

My wife and I would like to thank you so very much for another outstanding and very moving experience. It was indeed a pleasure to be with Joy and Dianne for the day and to see you, your colleagues and students. Your conference was outstanding and the speakers truly enlightening. Each speaker, artist and performer brought such a unique and personal perspective to the issues and it all came together in a very inspiring message of diversity, communication, hope and healing. Thank you and very best wishes as I am sure you are already thinking about and planning for next year. Warmest regards. GW, McGill University

 

I enjoyed the conference very much. It was well organized, entertaining, informative, inspiring, and the food was fabulous. Thank you for adding the extra seating! It was a day well spent! NH

 

This was my first New Sun Conference and I was not disappointed. I have very little background in First Nations and First Nations' issues (the reason why I attended) and I came away with a lot of hope that this culture can not only move on from past tragedy, but also rise above it to show the world what it means to be global caretakers. This may seem like platitudes, but whether it's Shaneen's infectious laugh, Tom Jackson's generosity and message of unconditional love, Don's gift of self deprecating humour that contrasts so well with the important skills the elders have to pass on, or the moving beauty of Aboriginal artistry, each of these provide reason to believe there is much the First Nations can offer and much a non-aboriginal can learn from them. This is unfortunately not readily apparent from an outsider's perspective. Message delivered. In terms of specifics, I enjoyed the variety of the speakers, the blend of art, humour and music. As a writer I'd enjoy seeing a First Nation's novelist as a speaker. I'd love it if an elder retold one of the more universal myths (there are some wonderful First Nations storytellers). The food was wonderful, the day well paced. I greatly enjoyed being a part of this community if only for a day. Thank you and congratulations. MS

 

I enjoyed the conference very much – all were great speakers and storytellers. The food was wonderful. Michael’s work was just exceptional, and new to me, and I was also very glad to hear from Shaneen – and Don Kelly was a welcome opening speaker. I hope to return next year! IH

 

To my mind, this was one of the best New Sun Conferences yet. I was thoroughly engaged all day long and came away with much to think about. Starting off with a comedian, Don Kelly, was brilliant, as it relaxed us all and primed us for the day. There was serious content in what he had to say and show us, but not taking himself too seriously was the key to his charm. It felt inclusive. In a very different way, Tom Jackson’s presentation, from someone who really has been down in the worst way yet found a way to make something positive, both for himself and others, from his experiences, was truly inspiring. Shaneen’s presentation, while coming from a young and less mature person, rang with authenticity. DN

 

I found it to be a very interesting day. The speakers were engaging and a diverse group from all Nations and all age perspectives. I really did enjoy Shaneen Robinson's presentation and had an opportunity to talk with her at lunch. Oh yes! The food was delightful as well. Thanks for a well-run event. JH

 

I love your conference. That is two years in a row for me and will not be my last. RN

 

I just wanted to express to you what a wonderful time I had at the conference on the weekend. I finally finished my blog entry today about the conference ... and made a
link to your site - I hope that's okay. Like every year, I felt revitalized by the day and so proud of all the amazing things that are happening in the Aboriginal community. I appreciate so much the work you do to put this conference together. I am already looking forward to next year! Miigwetch! EB, Policy Advisor, Indian & Northern Affairs Canada, Women's Issues and Gender Equality Directorate.

 

Sorry to have taken so long getting back to you with my impressions of the conference. I really did feel it was a valuable experience. Each of the presenters brought a unique and thoughtful perspective on the direction Aboriginal art is taking as a part of Canadian society. Overall, the tone seemed to be hopeful about the future, which is rare and rather inspiring. I found Shaneen Robinson's approach in particular surprisingly novel, in that she is so honest about the challenges faced by aboriginal Canadians; her writing is realistic about these problems without seeming hopeless. This approach differs from much of what is portrayed in other media because instead of a constant reminder of the negative events in history, which results in an association of anything 'Aboriginal' with negative aspects of Canadian history, the focus is on reviving that spirit and culture that is still alive and well among many communities and still exists in modern society. As someone who studied Anthropology, I believe in the importance of cross-cultural understanding and her play is an excellent example of how art can help to accomplish this. Art can not only be a therapeutic way of working through things, but a grounds for collaboration and ultimately moving forward together instead of focusing only on the past. At the same time, it is necessary to acknowledge the past and be honest about it. I found the theme - inspiring resilience - to be an interesting way of looking at this.  Thanks again; I hope this conference continues for many years to come! AE

 

I really enjoyed the conference, the wide variety of speakers was great. I especially liked the comedian and the journalist. There was a good mix of serious discussion, humour and also heartfelt moments. I also liked the healthy lunch. GB

 

Bonjour, it was my first attendance at the New Sun Conference and I really appreciated it. Having to work every day on projects related to public health in First Nations communities, I believe it is very important for me to know more and also understand better the reality of those communities. For me, art is a story teller driver about a culture and it is a perfect way to learn/understand more about people, who they are, where they come from and which challenges they are facing as a society. Thanks a lot for this great opportunity! Bien à vous. IL

 

I'd like to thank you for all your work that made the conference possible. All of the speakers were fantastic, and I really liked the range of presenters. Lunch far exceeded my expectations. My only qualm would be having a dark, slide-based presentation directly following lunch; many commented that it was hard to stay awake on a full stomach.  I found the celebratory approach very positive because it encourages more of the positive and definitely helps to reinforce that Aboriginal culture is still vibrant, which is necessary in a world where stereotypes still persist. Overall, I very much enjoyed my day and hope to be able to attend again next year. Thanks again, HP

 

Just wanted to say that it was my first time at the conference and I think Carleton should have more of these types of events. It was a wonderful experience and I really did enjoy the speakers. Looking forward to next year! NS

 

Thank you very much for organizing such a special day. I thoroughly enjoyed Don Kelly, Shaneen Robinson, and Michael Massie. All are extremely talented individuals in their own rights.  LP

 

The New Sun Conference this year was amazing - again. It's the second year I have been able to attend and loved every minute of it. I know you said you don't want to move the event to another venue, but as the level of interest is continually growing, do you want to start “limiting” the number of people who can attend? That would be a shame in the face of the evident hunger of people to learn more about or connect with Aboriginal cultures. Some options might include moving to another venue, increasing the time frame to include Friday evening, and/or Saturday evening perhaps. Each year's conference leaves me with a special personal message. This year's was very clear for me as a visual artist: "Get those paintings out of the basement and out where people can see them!" MLP

 

This was my second year attending the New Sun Conference and I must say, I plan on attending every year. The presenters were all very interesting and enjoyable. I liked the mix of talent and the way the day was structured. I commend you on a truly great conference. I look forward to participating for many years to come and I will certainly tell my family, friends and colleagues about the conference. Thank you for providing us with an opportunity to experience some positive and uplifting stories from Aboriginal artists. PB, Aboriginal Resources Consulting, www.aboriginalresources.ca

 

This was my second conference, my first was last year following a rather large snowfall!  I would like to thank you for holding the New Sun Conference and I appreciate the time and effort it takes to organize an event such as this.  I agree that it was a resounding success.  I especially enjoyed the presentations of Don Kelly and Tom Jackson. Although I am not an aboriginal I admire First Nations art, culture and spirituality, having been originally introduced to aboriginal art through the works of Bill Reid and Roy Henry Vickers. I look forward to attending the conference next February.  I am sure it will be as much a success as this year's conference was. AC

 

Uh oh, Allan, the conference will get bigger.....it's now getting some great recognition from the media! Congrats on your (and Don's) interview with the CBC. As far as my article [in Anishinabek News] is concerned, you will get honourable mention for having organized the event impeccably. Other than that, the focus is on Don [Kelly] and “Fish Out of Water.” SK

 

I enjoyed the conference very much – all were great speakers and storytellers. The food was wonderful. I would have liked to have heard people address the theme of resilience a little more, although all could testify to it, I’m sure. Michael’s work was just exceptional, and new to me, and I was also very glad to hear from Shaneen – and Don Kelly was a welcome opening speaker. I hope to return next year! LE

 

Those sessions I was able to attend were wonderful.  Congratulations on again doing a fine job! EK

 

It was maybe the best yet - the speakers were fabulous. Excellent work. Nothing on the conference end to say but positive things. HI

 

I caught most of Tom's performance... I thought it was very touching. Like I mentioned to you his style and voice remind me very much of John Prine. Don't know if he appreciates being compared to John Prine but we don't have to tell him. :)  RL

 

I really enjoy working with you each year on the New Sun Conference. Every year it is very interesting and exciting from start to finish and I appreciate your continued confidence in my service to you each year. The beef stew was by far the best I have ever had! Thanks again, DH, Media Technician and Conference A/V Co-ordinator, Instructional Media Services (IMS), Carleton University.

 
I just wanted to say I enjoyed the successful conference and did not want to miss it because it has an integrational sentimental value for me. I even bumped into Don Kelly downtown yesterday and expressed my thanks for a well done presentation. JEA
 
Let me again congratulate you on a wonderful event. I thought that all of the presentations were very well done and I particularly appreciated hearing Tom Jackson’s message. ST
 
Thank you for inviting me to the conference this weekend. I had a great time, thanks again for having us for supper. I’m looking forward to listening to your CD in my studio tomorrow!! Again, many thanks for a great weekend. Michael Massie (presenter)
 
I really enjoyed the conference yesterday, I thought it was quite exciting to hear those artists speak. It was great that such positive messages were being conveyed. Thanks again for putting on such a great conference. KM
 
Allan, What a great day! CONGRATS on a fabulous conference! I missed some of the afternoon, but really enjoyed everything! You must be happy! EM, School of Canadian Studies, Carleton University
 
Thank you for the New Sun Conference. I attended with my son, who is a student at Carleton. I found the speakers were passionate and engaged, making for an enlightening experience. I appreciated hearing Shaneen Robinson's personal story; her willingness to share vulnerabilities and strengths added much to the range of presentations. Best regards. JM
 
I just want to say how much I enjoyed and appreciated the 8th Annual New Sun Conference. Your conferences highlight the many positive and uplifting aspects of life in today's Aboriginal communities. It's always a pleasure to attend! This year's speakers represented a wide range of talents and experiences, from the hilarious, self-mocking humour of APTN's Don Kelly to the spiritual and humanitarian messages of singer/actor Tom Jackson. Their stories are both deeply personal, rooted in homes, families, and communities, and universal, touching audiences of all backgrounds. I'm still chuckling at Kelly's horseback-riding adventures! I really look forward to hearing more stories next year. Again, thanks so much for a great conference! TB
 

Course-related Conference Feedback

Students from two seminar classes (CDNS 4901, Issues in Canadian Aboriginal Cinema, and ARTH 4005, Topics in Contemporary Aboriginal Art) attended this year’s  New Sun Conference. They were asked to write a brief one paragraph reflection on the day, as well as a short essay. A selection of both assignments appears below.

 
The 2009 New Sun Conference was a remarkable experience which opened up an entirely new learning environment. The conventional didactic approach was thrown aside in favour of alternative interpretation, influenced highly by Aboriginal world views. The conference favoured active reactions by the community over the passive lecture format. Changes in the didactic approach took place at three distinct levels: together, the organization, the audience and the content of the New Sun Conference proved to all those present that the contemporary Canadian university has the potential and flexibility to accommodate an alternative to the scholarly conference. This different style is less exclusive, allowing people of all education levels, ages, and cultures to attend and participate. A wider adoption of this conference style would allow for a greater dissemination of new ideas into the community. The proof of the potential of this type of event is evident in the hugely increasing number of patrons it attracts each year. The New Sun Conference has shown us that the contemporary university is not a monolithic and static institution. It is porous, fluid, and it can accommodate a more advantageous range of events. MD
 
As an Aboriginal person I have often struggled with my identity. However, through the presentations at this year’s New Sun Conference: Inspiring Resilience I have gained a new appreciation for my Aboriginal heritage.  More importantly, since attending this year’s conference I have come closer to reconciling my choice to leave the reserve.  For the speakers illustrated to me that you can still be Indian and live in the city.  Furthermore, the presenters illustrated how it is important to understand the many sides of today’s Aboriginal culture, being one that is inevitably infused with Western influences.  Finally, as a student who has been studying Aboriginal issues for the last several years, it has become so easy to get caught up in the sadness that Aboriginal people have endured.  But refreshingly, the speakers at this year’s conference illustrated the importance of finding balance in your life through the celebration of Aboriginal culture.  It is safe to say that the 8th Annual New Sun Conference met its stated goal and was truly inspiring.  Shaneen Robinson so bravely illustrated how she had been able to strike a balance in her life as so many of the other presenters did as well.  Which was truly inspiring for me as I have struggled to find a balance and find peace with my identity?  Equally as inspiring were all the presenters.  While Steven Loft illustrated the dilemma Aboriginal artists confront when attempting to enter the mainstream, Don Kelly, Tom Jackson and Michael Massie illustrated how to be at peace with being an Indian living in both worlds of traditional Aboriginal life and modern life.  The important message I took with me was, it is okay to be an Indian in the city.  You are none-the-less a real Indian. SF
 
Humour is an excellent method to convey a serious message. The New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Art was an enlightening experience, where the presenters opened their personal experiences and opinions to the audience. It was more than a conference; the atmosphere was casual, and the pace never slowed. The presenters broke the barrier between themselves and audience with embarrassing stories, all the while expressing the theme of resilience. Using laughter as a tool both captured the audience’s attention, and also allowed them to learn, while connecting to the presenters on a universal level. The conference was essentially about Aboriginal art, but the themes expressed were applicable to everyone present. Laughter coated the seriousness of some of the subjects, and made everyone feel welcome. From Don Kelly’s antics in Fish Out of Water, to Tom Jackson’s thoughts on love, the conference was an inspiring and pleasant experience, which began and ended with a laugh. JW
 
The 8th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Art held at Carleton University on February 28, 2009, showcased the stories and experiences of five inspirational Aboriginal people: Don Kelly, Steven Loft, Shaneen Robinson, Michael Massie and Tom Jackson.   It was enriching and enlightening to spend the day gathered with a group of people from different backgrounds and cultures.  I felt that each presenter did a wonderful job at communicating their message of the necessity for understanding, learning and healing in cross-cultural relations.  I was specifically drawn to the presentation by Shaneen Robinson as she read excerpts from her play titled Notay Kiskintamowin (translated from Cree as Wanting to Know).  Her personal approach as well as the need to capture her oral traditions and stories in writing is something that I can relate to.  Now that my grandparent’s have passed away as well as my own parents, there is a greater need to write down the stories of my childhood as well as the traditions that we celebrated so that they are not forgotten and that they remain a part of my identity.  This theme of identity and in particular the contemporary urban Aboriginal identity was a common thread within all of the presentations.  Each presenter through their own personal reflection discussed their acceptance of an identity that is self-constructed out of elements from both worlds.  Their humorous approach as well as their positive outlook on cultural growth and evolution was truly inspirational and refreshing. CB  
 
The 8th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts: Inspiring Resilience brought into focus a world that extends and permeates well beyond the everyday borders and boundaries we create. As a student, professional, Métis person and human being, February 28th, 2009 served as a reminder of the importance of home and the ability to find a safe and welcoming place in new explorations and discoveries. The conference offered an impressive array of Aboriginal artists willing to spend a day sharing their vision and voice. This was a journey of laughter, learning and discovery where presenters and audience were able to come together in an intimate environment of sharing. True to the theme of “Inspiring Resilience”, we in the audience felt the power of the arts to cross cultural boundaries, empower communities, affirm identities and create change. This important day provided us all with a greater understanding and appreciation for the artists and their stories and for me, a greater understanding of myself. JS 
 
The New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts serves as an incredible model of cultures coming together to make change. Rather than addressing only an Aboriginal audience, presenters reached out to members from many different communities, encouraging them to speak, learn and think about issues facing Canada’s Aboriginal artists. It was an inspiring, inclusive and encouraging event. I believe the effort to include everyone in the journey to a better understanding is crucial. After the conference, I feel there is a space for me as a non-Aboriginal art student to discuss these issues and push for change. Thanks to the presenters’ honesty and courage to speak out, I learned many new things and gained invaluable insight into issues many are too apprehensive to discuss. EL 
 
 What was probably most impactful for me were the experiential and multi-faceted aspects of the conference. I believe this provided for a greater depth and breadth of learning than would a purely didactic presentation. It’s learning in a holistic, multi-sensorial manner which in turn encourages a response to the material at multiple levels. The experiential focus invited us to bring all of ourselves to the learning process. I found the venue itself facilitated this focus and was appropriate to the overall intent of the conference. There was much to inspire us, particularly Shaneen Robinson’s courage and honesty, Michael Massie’s stunning art and Tom Jackson’s ability to reach out and connect with us at a spiritual level. Finally, New Sun herself provided us with an example of how much can be achieved through her philanthropic vision and the challenges that she set us.  JK 
 
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the New Sun Conference was that the conference itself was an example of how cultural healing is an intercultural process: it must involve both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in order to be successful. The conference provided a “safe space” in which individuals of different ages, cultural backgrounds, and communities could share their knowledge and experiences. As an outsider to Aboriginal culture, I have often felt an overwhelming tension when confronted with contemporary Aboriginal issues. I have never experienced trauma or struggle similar to that of Aboriginal communities and, for this reason, it is difficult to speak to the issues which have resulted from this trauma. However, I believe that neglecting to participate in discussing these issues further impedes the healing process by perpetuating divisions among Aboriginal and non-aboriginal people. Cultural healing must be understood as an intercultural process whereby both parties acknowledge a connection between one another and work towards maintaining and strengthening that connection. The New Sun Conference was a chapter in the development of this connection – it initiated an intercultural dialogue which engaged individuals of all ages, backgrounds and communities in the journey to cultural rejuvenation. XW  
 
The New Sun Conference was more of a celebration than a conference. The guests included the likes of comedian and television host Don Kelly, curator of Indigenous art at the National Gallery of Canada, Steven Loft, award-winning writer and television broadcaster Shaneen Robinson, artist, silversmith and sculptor Michael Massie, and singer, songwriter and humanitarian Tom Jackson. The speakers were inspiring and exciting. The food was superb, the music was wonderful and the conference was stirring. It was truly a pleasure to be a part of something so positive and compelling. I walked out of that room feeling recharged mentally and spiritually. It was undoubtedly a day that I will never forget. EL
 
The 8th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts: Inspiring Resilience was a celebration of new stories. Steven Loft brought in a fiery, Mohawkish polemic that called for a fusion of aboriginal voices in “Canadian” art representations, from East to West. Don Kelly proved that humour is still a launch pad for aboriginal storytelling. Shaneen Robinson showed off her down-to-earth, grass roots approach to fiction and journalism. Tom Jackson brought balance in song, laughter and love. And Michael Massie simply shined with his own creativity, affirming the power of an indigenous imagination. Thank you New Sun and Professor Ryan for spearheading this prismatic project. AW
 
The guest speaker that I felt was most important at the conference was Shaneen. All the other presenters were adults, while Shaneen represented the youth. The Aboriginal youth population is the fastest growing and yet most at risk in the country. She is an example that is counter to the racist stereotype of Native youth as drug addicted, violent and apathetic. Her play extraordinarily highlights the pains she feels for her Native brothers and sisters. This specific work shows how she has constructively channeled her hurt into something of merit and beauty, rather than submitting to vices and despair. After the conference I downloaded and read Shaneen’s play, which gave me chills. I am not entirely familiar with Native creative literature but deeply appreciated Shaneen’s honesty as conveyed through her characters. The play is also especially crucial for white audiences. So often in my discussions with friends and family, I realize they are extremely ignorant and biased about Native issues. They truly do not understand the struggle of Natives, or that they have actively participated in the oppression of Natives. I hope to one day see this play on stage. It definitely gave me strength to face difficulties in my own life and was very impactful personally. My only somewhat negative comment was that I wish the play was longer. Another critique was that in presenting, Shaneen was visibly nervous. Perhaps with more experience she will realize she has no need to be so. However, I am sure that Shaneen will be doing more writing in the future and I look forward to hearing about it. AC 
 

REFLECTIONS OF HOME

I hold within my heart many wonderful memories of home. Memories of laughter around the dinner table as my dad, in hysterics tries to tell us childhood stories of raiding his neighbour’s garden, his walk on appearance as boy #3 in a school production of A Christmas Carol or his many travels with his dog Buster. I think of sunny, lazy Sunday mornings with Gordon Lightfoot on the turntable, cream of wheat bubbling on the stove and my family surrounding me and fully engaged in one another. These memories elicit a nostalgic, sweet and special feeling and the feeling is home. As I have grown in age, these remain full within my heart and help me through the tough days and allow me to find and create new memories. Saturday February 28th, 2009 marks a new and special memory that brings me back home again.

“Let go of the junk”… “Open your heart”, Elder Jim Albert offered these words in his opening. I love the words and the meaning and will repeat them often when life becomes busy and stress takes perch atop my shoulders. Life is much more than the junk, fear, anxiety and mundane mess that can sometimes pull us into sadness and cloud our vision and voice. Having an opportunity to sit and share in a safe, warm and welcoming space is a treasure and a necessary treat.

I am a part time student that rarely actually gets to the school or a lecture more than once a week. I am a full time employee of the Aboriginal civil service and often come to events prepared to not only be bombarded by politics but also poised to respond with a compelling, persuading response. This leaves me on occasion guarded and skeptical of the faces and the voices that come toward me. This day was different; no one wanted to know my motives, or whose side I was on. This day, I could just be. I could sit and listen, share, enjoy and be inspired. What is better than this kind of peace on any day at any place and why does it so often seem such a difficult thing to embrace.

I arrived at my very first New Sun Conference with my brother on one side and my partner on another. Having such a significant part of who I am wrapped around me was and is a valued part of my life. The audience of two hundred odd seemed to largely share in my frame of mind. Friends and family joined together not for a lecture but in an intimate conversation. This day was about voice, vision and listening, really listening. In fact we managed to make it through the entire day with minimal cell phone intrusion which in the year 2009 is rare relief.

I could not write a full reflection on the New Sun Conference without mentioning Allan Ryan. From the introduction in the program to his words at the event itself, Allan Ryan has a way about him. He has this sincere and genuine calming presence that sets a tone. These are wonderful qualities in a professor and in this respect they served to bring vision to the event by simply allowing things to unfold. I do however, fully appreciate that this one day is an immense amount of work and in many ways that speaks to the gift, the ability to make things appear effortless.

The line up for the New Sun was impressive offering an assorted array of talented gems each with their own unique vision, all working, living and breathing in their way. Each artist shared and expressed a sincere sense of responsibility to their people and their home. There was anticipation in the room as those more familiar with the day were prepared for a new and amazing journey and those first timers such as myself were just thrilled to sit back and take it all in.

Don Kelly is much more than an intro act and that was fully understood and appreciated at the conference. He has earned his stripes on the comedy circuit, in television and in the realm of Aboriginal advocacy. His ability to start the day with a laugh and share some of his favourite and not always flattering Fish out of Water moments was brilliant.

What I find so refreshing about Don Kelly is his sporadic insights that are sprinkled throughout his congenial manner, sharp wit and keen eye. As they say in comedy, timing is everything and he has impeccable timing. In sharing some of his thoughts on the resilience of Aboriginal people and the learning approach he suggested to us that it was “not about scolding”. Further he explained, Aboriginal people learned by doing and this involved making mistakes. In this process there is to be found a great deal of laughter and always there is learning. Beneath Don Kelly’s matter of fact delivery is a poignant message that comes across not from the pulpit but as a friend or a family member might. This was a wonderful way to begin the presentations and while others may have worried about following his comedic talents it simply served to open us all to learn and laugh together.

Steven Loft stepped to the stage as curator in residence in Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Canada. I am familiar with the word curator and have always a general idea of what it means but this intimate unabashed presentation taught me much more. I discovered what a valuable and influential position this can be and it was quite clear that Loft does not take the responsibility lightly. There was nothing resigned about his presentation as he carried us through his slideshow with purpose and conviction.

I enjoy and appreciate the political underpinnings that can find their way into any venue. Loft provided ample fodder for thought and debate as he explored the place of Aboriginal arts in the broader arts community. He raised some fascinating questions and I am compelled to agree as Loft suggests that Aboriginal Arts is not only powerful on its own, but is to be enjoyed and respected within the arts community at large.

Aboriginal artists having been pushed to the margins have had to find their own way. These artists are carving a space where the work will no longer be ignored or considered as having lesser value. Loft spoke of artists that have had the courage to raise their voice, blaze a path and make change in spite of the incredible obstacles in their way.  There was intensity in his words and it reminded me that there must always be room to have a view, to speak ones mind and to bring forward a voice that comes from the heart.

I have always loved to write and for me it is offers a release that comes from nowhere or nothing else. A blank page can be filled with thoughts and expressions that I would likely never utter aloud. I admire the skill and appreciate the opportunity to read a string of words capable of slamming you in the stomach, taking your breath away and making no apologies. Shaneen Robinson packs a punch as a fresh voice, a talented writer and gifted communicator. Her contagious nervous laughter juxtaposed with the intense sadness and tragic realities of the characters in her play had a profound impact. There is so much emotion in the work and it seems that there is great deal of herself embedded in each line.

Robinson commented a few times about her unease with the content of what she had planned to share at the conference given some of the younger ears in the audience. In fact she mentioned how she struggled with the use of profanity even in writing her play yet felt a desire to be true to the language and the experience. This recognized need to be true occupies a special space in Aboriginal communities. This sense of responsibility to the community and to the people plays a pivotal role in resilience and healing. As Robinson commented she holds great respect for her family and her people and when she goes home “it just feels right”.

Michael Massie works in a physical realm of art that prior to the conference I knew very little about. He is able to look beyond the metal and the stone to find the beauty and brilliance steeping deeply inside. Massie through his slide show of work illustrated how he pays homage to his heritage by pulling together mediums and messages that can effectively bridge cultures. His presentation was an important part of the journey of the day as it offered in a very tangible way the ability to pull all the pieces together. 

Tom Jackson as the final presenter was a fitting finale. He seems a human being that is deeply moved into action by an intense and everlasting spiritual calling to make a difference.  He offered us an intimate glimpse into his past, family and current purposeful existence. I was struck by one particular phrase he used when recounting his own struggles claiming he was an “architect of my own demise”. We are all resilient and in spite of our battles we each possess within ourselves the power and ability to move back and move forward. Jackson comes across as someone that is at peace with himself and looks to actively seek and encourage peace in the world around him.

The 8th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Artists was true to the theme of “Inspiring Resilience”. The day took us on a journey through the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual realm, allowing us to experience the power of the arts. The artists and audience shared their stories and vision and talked with one another about being agents of change and making a positive difference.

I find that I learn a great deal about myself each time I attend an event with an open heart and mind. The opportunity to laugh together, talk together and break bannock together even for a few hours can have a substantial impact on my level of understanding and appreciation for others. This is a journey that we all must take. For me it does not simply equate to climbing the ranks of the professional ladder, or making a sound living.  I inspire to be sincere in my relations, open to others, free to share my voice and be willing to really listen.  These are my reflections of the heart; these are my reflections of home.

JS

 

“Artists don’t leave their paintings in the basement.”
Tom Jackson

             Artists are powerful people. That power comes from the honesty and courage to speak about difficult issues and overarching truths, to share their innermost anxieties and fears. When listening to an artist speak or looking at his or her work, I always try to distil the message and reflect on how it might apply to my own world view. Before attending the New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts, I was apprehensive over being an outsider, worrying about my ability to relate and understand. However, thanks to the relentless honesty and courage of the presenters to openly discuss their own challenges and experiences, I was able to connect personally with them and was inspired to think more deeply about these issues.

           Clearly, both the greater arts community and the Aboriginal community share the commitment to telling honest stories and fostering open dialogue. The personal truths behind the stories of Tom Jackson, Don Kelly and Shaneen Robinson are evidence of just how powerful personal histories can be, not only to those they belong to, but to their audience as well. 

            Like Tom Jackson, I feel that cultural understanding comes from building bridges between communities and fostering open, safe dialogue. Being too scared to talk about sensitive issues is definitely not the solution. The structure, order and message of the conference itself can serve as a model of the process needed to achieve greater cultural understanding. In discussing this process, I have chosen to focus on three of the five presentations, though I will try to touch on each.

            The journey to greater cultural understanding must begin with active listening and respect. The calming and uplifting prayer from Elder Jim Albert that began the conference is a great example. He encouraged audience members to shed the burdens they had brought with them and to approach the day with an open mind and an open heart. The prayer paid homage to the Algonquin people, whose land we were meeting on, emphasizing understanding and mutual respect. It stressed that the day was a celebration of togetherness and community, something that is not celebrated often enough. As I was breathing deeply at my own seat, my nose tingling with the sweet smell of the smudging, I thought about how important this step of self-reflection is when approaching any challenging issue. In order to truly reach a new level of understanding, we must first think about the burdens, biases and experiences we bring to the table. By discarding those prejudices, it is easier to take what is being said to heart.

            Following the opening prayer, writer and comedian Don Kelly took to the podium. Kelly made “breaking the ice” an understatement with his comedy and any tension I was feeling as an outsider quickly dissolved as he spoke about his own naivety and uncertainty surrounding Aboriginal culture. Describing himself as an “urban Indian”, he spoke about his own journey of trying to reconnect with Aboriginal communities from across Canada.  Though he was discussing serious issues, such as struggles with identity and threats to cultural continuity, he was employing comedy as his main tool. Through laughter, I was able to relate to what he was talking about without feeling apprehensive or ashamed over my own lack of knowledge. I felt confident that, though I may not know everything there is to know, my thoughts on these issues are valid.

             I feel like if everyone adopted Kelly’s outlook, if the taboo surrounding the discussion of the tough issues was stripped away, there would be a lot more room for mutual understanding. It is very difficult to learn in fear of offending someone. Though Kelly is Aboriginal himself, I feel he appealed to both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members of the audience by making it clear that it’s alright to laugh about these issues, as long as the laughter is part of the journey toward understanding and compassion.

             Though Steven Loft’s presentation was steeped in academic rhetoric, a lot of which went over my head, there were messages that really struck me. Right from the beginning I was surprised and impressed by Loft’s courage. He spoke out against the National Gallery of Canada (his place of employment), detailing how it has been part of the problem for quite some time. He spoke out against the Conservative government (which participates in the funding of the gallery), saying that it is not and never will be the supporter of Aboriginal arts that it claims to be. He highlighted the fact that no public gallery in Canada has an Aboriginal director. With passion, Loft emphasized how far we still have to go in order to do justice to the Aboriginal arts community.

           Shaneen Robinson’s presentation resonated with me on many levels. Beyond her strong ties to her heritage and culture, which I respect and value, she is also a young woman who loves to write. As a journalism student, I share this passion for the written word and was impressed and envious of her deep connection and love for her work.

            During her presentation, Robinson was so honest in discussing her own struggle and search for an identity. Although she forgot the theme of the conference, I think she fit it perfectly. She is resilient: she is bright and ambitious and strongly connected to her roots. She now seems comfortable and confident in her identity as a young Aboriginal woman. That self-assured sense of character is so inspiring and can often be difficult to find. She has a glowing personality and a great laugh, which made her very easy to listen to. Most of all, she made no apologies for boldly speaking out about difficult issues faced by the Aboriginal community. I believe this courage, honesty and confidence is crucial in coming to terms with one’s own identity and cultural beliefs. As Robinson said about her play Notay Kiskintamowin, “Some people might enjoy it; some might think that it’s too much. Nevertheless, it’s mine.”

            I believe this courage and confidence has a lot to do with her (our) generation. I feel like young people today are not as apprehensive when it comes to speaking about personal experience and controversial issues. For the most part, we want to share, we want to be heard and we want to heal. Generations past have bottled their emotions and refused to speak about societal problems. The result has been issues that are painful but left silent. I think today’s generation of young people has gotten over that. We recognize the good that can come from open, frank discussion and I think the excerpts from Robinson’s play showed us just how powerful that discussion can be. Her depth of insight was inspiring and I believe she serves as a role model not only for the Aboriginal community, but for young people across the country.

            Michael Massie’s presentation provided an intensive look into his art practice, which I wasn’t familiar with before the conference. The element of his work that jumped out for me was how he toys with language when naming his pieces. He employed humour to make his pieces perhaps more appealing to a wider audience. It was interesting to me that humour wove itself through all of the presentations. Because of the comedic qualities, no matter how subtle, I believe the presenters brought together Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal audience members. As I said before, when laughter is used for positive growth, it can be one of the most powerful ways to connect with people. 

            When Massie mentioned that it can be very difficult to get art out of Labrador, I was really surprised. I hadn’t necessarily thought about what it must be like for established artists working in smaller centres to disseminate their artwork. If it is that difficult just to get your art out there, why would young people be inspired to get into art in the first place in Canada’s isolated communities? I now recognize the importance of community-run art centres and programs for youth that frame art as a forum for discussion, rather than as a money-making venture (although I know the business of art is important to many of Canada’s smaller communities).  Before the promise of making money, young people need to be inspired to make art out of a drive to share stories.

            Finally, I thought Tom Jackson’s presentation was moving, rewarding and highly inspirational. His deep, commanding voice filled the room and drew everyone in. I think his ideas about inspiring change, talking about trading bullets for ballads, can extend to global challenges. Like Robinson, Jackson told very personal, difficult stories with a beaming smile, exuding confidence and a love for charity and giving, in order to stimulate discussion and inspire action.

            I feel that his opinions on cultural understanding were most relevant and important. He spoke about using art as a safe space for open dialogue. He emphasized the importance of speaking out, asking questions and making mistakes. “The challenge to better understand culture is so important,” he said. “You can’t get an answer if you don’t ask the question.” For me, hearing this reaffirmed my interest in Aboriginal arts and gave me confidence to ask the tough questions. Although talking about the sensitive issues can sometimes be daunting as an outsider, asking the questions is the only way to begin the process of cultural understanding.

            Being an outsider has always been a major struggle for me in appreciating and discussing Aboriginal art. I am often apprehensive about speaking out on issues that I am passionate about, because I know there are many discussions surrounding Aboriginal art which are difficult and sensitive. I fear my lack of knowledge may offend. However, what struck me at the conference was how accommodating and open these leaders are to hearing different points of view.

Although I appreciate the importance of closeness and resilience within a community, I believe the emphasis should be on how we can see ourselves reflected in others. Only then will we learn humility and understanding. By continuing to emphasize otherness, members of different communities who want to discuss these issues might feel isolated. Thanks to the open and inclusive environment of the New Sun Conference, a cross-cultural dialogue was made possible. Most of the speakers emphasized universal experiences and how we need to come together to create a better relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.

             Overall, the honesty of the presenters made me feel included. In their own insecurities over identity and their optimism about the journey to a better understanding, I saw my own views reflected. I think this conference is an important event and provides a uniquely safe space to talk openly about these issues. Steven Loft didn’t seem afraid to throw out bold statements regarding politics and controversy within the art world. Shaneen Robinson wasn’t afraid to admit to her own confusion surrounding her identity as an Aboriginal woman. Don Kelly was open to showing us his struggle to reconnect with his own heritage and culture. For many of us, learning about where we came from gives us a greater sense of who we are. 

Thanks to the honesty and openness of the presenters, I feel ready to explore these issues further and ask the tough questions. I’m sure Tom Jackson would see this as a step in the right direction. As he told the audience, with a warm smile, “You don’t have to change the world; you only have to change yours. The rest will take care of itself.”

            EL

 

Saturday, February 28th, 2009 marked the 8th Annual New Sun Conference on Aboriginal Arts at Carleton University. The theme of this year’s conference was Inspiring Resilience, a theme which speaks to the way Aboriginal art reaffirms the power of the human spirit to overcome struggle and to inspire individuals of all ages and cultural backgrounds to overcome challenges. The conference featured five Aboriginal speakers from different artistic backgrounds, each of whom spoke to the significant role art plays in inspiring resilience: Don Kelly, a member of the Ojibways of Onigaming, and a comedian, actor and writer; Steven Loft, a Mohawk of the Six Nations and the current Curator in Residence in Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Canada; Shaneen Robinson, a member of the Cree and Gitxsan Nations and a broadcaster, playwright and reporter for CTV News in Winnipeg; Michael Massie, a sculptor and silversmith of Inuit, Scottish and Metis decent who lives in Newfoundland; and Tom Jackson, a Cree from Saskatchewan and a musician, songwriter, actor and humanitarian.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the New Sun Conference was that the conference itself was an example of how cultural healing is an intercultural process: it must involve both Aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in order to be successful. The conference provided a “safe space” in which individuals of different ages, cultural backgrounds, and communities could share their knowledge and experiences. As an outsider to Aboriginal culture, I have often felt an overwhelming tension when confronted with contemporary Aboriginal issues. I have never experienced trauma or struggle similar to that of Aboriginal communities and, for this reason, it is difficult to speak to the issues which have resulted from this trauma. However, I believe that neglecting to participate in discussing these issues further impedes the healing process by perpetuating divisions among Aboriginal and non-aboriginal people. 

Cultural healing must be understood as an intercultural process whereby both parties acknowledge a connection between one another and work towards maintaining and strengthening that connection.  The New Sun Conference was a chapter in the development of this connection – it initiated an intercultural dialogue which engaged individuals of all ages, backgrounds and communities in the journey to cultural rejuvenation. This dialogue was made possible on account of the space in which the conference was held, the presentations delivered by the speakers and, the variety of cultural activities which took place throughout the day.

A non judgmental space

The atmosphere of the New Sun Conference was one of the most important factors in initiating the intercultural dialogue between the individuals in attendance. It provided a non-judgmental space where individuals felt compelled to share their stories of struggle with others. Personally, as I entered the room in the Minto Centre, I felt welcome. The energy in the room was beautiful. It felt as though every single person was there to listen, share and to be inspired and this was evident in peoples’ actions. People from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures were talking amongst one another, eating, sipping on coffee and laughing. It was refreshing to be in a room where I felt I could sit next to anyone without feeling unwelcome.

Another aspect which contributed to the atmosphere was the smell of tobacco. Elder Jim Albert had just finished smudging the room, giving thanks to the Algonquin people whose land we were congregating on, and cleansing the air. The smell and the respect with which Elder Jim conducted this practice contributed to a feeling that I was in a safe space. He conducted an opening prayer. He delivered his prayer slowly and with great intention. He spoke to the importance of overcoming hardships, of enjoying life and, of focusing on the positive. It was a universal message. It struck a chord with everyone in the room and set the tone for the day.

Presentations

In addition to the non-judgmental atmosphere of the room, the presentations initiated an intercultural dialogue. The presenters engaged individuals of all ages and cultural backgrounds by sharing personal stories. Each from a different community, and equipped with different experiences and stories, the presenters discussed personal journeys of inspiration yet delivered universal messages. I have decided to reflect on just three presentations (and the ways in which they encouraged an intercultural dialogue at the New Sun Conference) since these presentations had the greatest impact on me. 

Don Kelly, Ojibway comedian, actor and writer, spoke about coming to terms with his ‘mixed’ identity by using humour as a tool. Kelly emphasized how his personal learning journey had taken him to the national stage where he is able to explore traditional knowledge and initiate a dialogue between different Aboriginal groups with his television show “Fish out of Water.” The message he delivered was extremely relevant because it illustrated the importance of learning about, and sharing cultural knowledge. It also spoke to an element of fear that many individuals confront when they are faced with something they know little about.  Kelly’s message encouraged people not to be afraid of what they do not know – although people may feel embarrassed or inadequate for asking questions, it is this inquisitiveness (if taken up by Aboriginals and non-aboriginals alike) that will inform individuals about the importance of traditional Aboriginal knowledge and culture, and will lead to a greater understanding of how to overcome the tensions which continue to exist within communities and between the Aboriginal and non-aboriginal community.  

Kelly illustrated the importance of humour when confronted with new or difficult situations. Both, his show “Fish out of Water” and his presentation dealt with the issues of reconnecting to a lost culture. This can often be a very difficult and painful process. However, Kelly illustrates how humour can help in this process. Kelly illustrated the presence (and importance) of humour in Aboriginal culture and its relevance as a tool for resilience. He also illustrated how it can be used as a tool to communicate across cultures.

Shaneen Robinson, a Cree broadcaster, playwright and reporter for CTV News in Winnipeg from the Gitxsan Nations, delivered excerpts from her award winning play “Wanting to Know” and while doing so, emphasized her personal journey of understanding her role and identity through the literary arts. Robinson described her play as semi-fictional. She drew from that which she could relate to in order to construct a compelling narrative about the search for identity. She collected stories, characters and scenes from things she saw, read and experienced. By doing so, she emphasized the need to understand the context in which identity is shaped.  An individual’s identity is often made up of a collection of impressions. It is only after acknowledging these impressions and how they affect an individual that one can understand one’s self. The way these influences affect an individual needs to be considered when searching for truth. ‘Wanting to know’ often results in a long and painful journey but a necessary one none-the-less.

Similar to Kelly’s presentation, Robinson illustrated the power of the arts to initiate communication between individuals from different communities and cultures. The power of the narrative is that it can be incredibly emotional. People of all cultures and backgrounds can relate to experiences through emotion. Robinson discussed very personal and controversial issues in an incredibly open and honest manner. By sharing her personal struggle to find herself, Robinson inspired others to share as well. The power of the arts is that they promote communication between families, communities, and cultures. Art is necessary in that it inspires individuals to want to share – it inspires a desire to participate in the dialogue. Robinson’s presentation was inspiring in that it illustrated the ability of the arts to encourage resilience.

Tom Jackson, musician, songwriter, actor and humanitarian discussed his personal journey in overcoming drug addiction and alcoholism, and the role art played in his continued healing journey. His presentation spoke of his days living in a basement in Toronto, as an ‘urban indian’ and the issues he had to overcome at this time of his life. He addressed the issues of substance abuse, both, how he came to be addicted to drugs, and how he came to overcome this addiction. His story was personal and emotional. Similar to Robinson’s story it was an inspirational one - a story which promoted communication and sharing of knowledge with others.

Jackson’s presentation illustrated the power of music to initiate this dialogue. It is “through ballads not bullets,” not “with vinegar but with honey” that individuals can affect change.  Tom is an example of this power – both in terms of how much money he has raised for charity over the past twenty years and also through the way he inspired the participants at the New Sun Conference.

The multi-faceted nature of the conference:  building a community

The multi-faceted nature of the New Sun Conference (which included performance and a community lunch), solidified the connection between the participants who were in attendance. In addition to being engaged by inspirational presentations, conference goers were invited to an Aboriginal luncheon and a performance by Tom Jackson. Tables were arranged in Fenn Lounge and conference goers were welcome to sit wherever they pleased. This arrangement encouraged individuals to initiate conversation with new individuals and promoted a feeling of community. The multi-faceted nature of the conference encouraged the development of connection between individuals. I truly felt that, by the end of the day, I had become part of a very special community. 

Afterthought…

What was most inspirational about the New Sun Conference was that it was a day of sharing.  The conference illustrated the power of art to initiate communication between people of different ages, cultures and backgrounds. This intercultural celebration initiated dialogue both within the Aboriginal community and between the Aboriginal and non-aboriginal community. I feel extremely privileged to have taken part in this event and I will carry the memory of this experience with me forever.

XW

 

8th Annual New Sun Conference Reflection: Reconciling the “Urban Indian”

As an Aboriginal person I have often struggled with my identity.  However, through the presentations at this year’s New Sun Conference: Inspiring Resilience I have gained a new appreciation for my Aboriginal heritage.  More importantly, since attending this year’s conference I have come closer to reconciling my choice to leave the reserve.  For the speakers illustrated to me that you can still be Indian and live in the city.  Furthermore, the presenters illustrated how it is important to understand the many sides of today’s Aboriginal culture, being one that is inevitably infused with Western influences.  Finally, as a student who has been studying Aboriginal issues for the last several years, it has become so easy to get caught up in the sadness that Aboriginal people have endured.  But refreshingly, the speakers at this years’ conference illustrated the importance of finding balance in your life through the celebration of Aboriginal culture.  It is safe to say that the 8th Annual New Sun Conference met its stated goal and was truly inspiring.

The inspiration drawn from the conference came from the speakers’ stories.  Stories that reminded us that Aboriginal people are resilient and have endured as a people despite many severe changes over the past few centuries since contact with Europeans.  One of those changes has been the exodus from rural areas and reserves into the cities.  Migration to cities has occurred for many reasons, but one important one is that Aboriginal people are looking for better lives for their family and children as a result of the loss of ability to be self-sufficient on reserves.  This is one of the reasons why I moved to the city from the reserve I grew up on.  Consequently, this migration resulted in an identity crisis.  Am I less of an Indian because I don’t live on the reserve anymore?  Do I still retain the right to carry the card that says I am legally a status Indian?

It seems that striking this balance between the Indian world and the modern Canadian world is the challenge for the New Sun Conference artists, as it is for me in terms of my own identity.  One can see the complexity in reconciling identity through the words of Steven Loft who illustrated how Aboriginal artists struggle to see their art presented in our country’s galleries.  According to Steven Loft, much of Aboriginal art is about resistance, yet to be successful in the art world artists must transverse from the margins into mainstream. 

Don Kelly and Tom Jackson have helped me come to terms with this perplexity.  Tom Jackson demonstrated being at peace with his Aboriginal identity, regardless of the fact that he grew up on the streets of Winnipeg.  When asked by one audience member whether he sometimes goes out into the woods and sings a song just for himself and nature, he replied that he did not ever do such things.  He said that he sometimes would do similar things in the back alley, though.  This sort of humour that he was able to bring to the issue of being an Indian in the city was indeed refreshing to hear.  He openly admitted that he did not know how to paddle a canoe.  He said these things so matter-of-factly and showed no shame in his lack of contact with wilderness.  Yet he did show deep respect for his ancestors.  He mentioned that he came from a Cree mother who was “proud” and an English father who was a “man of peace.”  And that’s who he was and he made no excuses for it.  To see a man so secure in his identity was truly an inspiration.

Similarly, Don Kelly spoke about his childhood growing up in the city of Winnipeg, not on his traditional territory.  He calls himself “an urban Indian.”  Throughout his presentation he never questioned his Aboriginality.  In fact, he was able to utilize humour when talking about his lack of traditional skills.  He spoke about how one Elder he met while filming his show, Fish Out of Water, referred to Don Kelly as a “cement Indian,” meaning that his feet touched nothing but cement.  The fact that he was able to relay this message illustrated to me that Don Kelly was also at peace with his identity.  He inspired me in that he, like Tom Jackson, showed that it is okay to identify as an Indian and not know how to track and shoot a moose or know how to build a bear trap. 

At the same time, Don Kelly also illustrated how reclaiming Aboriginal culture can be therapeutic and is important to building Aboriginal resiliance against total assimilation.  Don Kelly said that reconnecting to his Aboriginal heritage was an important way for his father to maintain his resilience.  Through his father’s ability to learn Cree, he was able to reclaim his Aboriginal identity.  Furthermore, viewers can see Don Kelly reclaiming his own Aboriginal identity in much the same way he described his father’s reconnecting to his heritage.  As host of the show, Don Kelly travels around Canada and visits various Aboriginal people to learn their traditional customs.  Reconnecting to his Aboriginal heritage is a “healing journey that began when he got in touch with who he was.”  The tension between the traditional and the modern is not present in Don Kelly’s world.  He says that Aboriginal people can still learn and live traditional skills without having to give up modern life.  Don Kelly states: “We are not caught between two worlds, but we get the best of both worlds.”  For an “urban Indian” myself, these are indeed inspiring words. 

Michael Massie illustrated the blending of two cultures not just through his words but also in his artwork.  Michael Massie’s Aboriginal heritage did not seem to be pressed upon him as a child; a common thread he has with the other presenters at the conference.  He told us how his mother would not speak of her Aboriginal ancestry because of her experience as a child being ridiculed.  Yet, he has been able to connect with his ancestry through his artwork.  However, he does not connect just with Aboriginal ancestry through his work as he is also of Scottish descent.  As such, his work has common connections to both the Canadian and Aboriginal art scenes.  He says that through his art he has “tried to understand both sides of his culture,” again reaffirming that it is okay to be a part of both worlds.

In my opinion, the most refreshing speaker of the day was Shaneen Robinson.  As a young and blooming playwright, Shaneen Robinson illustrated the many challenges Aboriginal people face today.  Like my own personal challenges, Shaneen Robinson’s difficulties also had to do with identity.  She openly asked the audience, “Who am I?  Where did I come from?”  Her play, Notay Kiskintamowin (Wanting to Know), was part of the healing journey she had to embark on in order to answer these questions and I could not have identified with her more.  In her quest to find the answers, she spoke to an Elder who told her that “there is a place for Aboriginal people in cities, too.”  The answer is so simple and yet so profound.

But the most important lesson I took away from the conference is that it is not just okay to identify with both worlds, but that it should be celebrated.  As Jim Albert said in his opening prayer, “We need to build up joy in our lives in order to deal with the other things in our lives.”  Shaneen Robinson could not have illustrated this sentiment any better! 

As she said herself, her presentation was an emotional roller coaster.  She shared real life, sad, tragic stories that she incorporated into her play.  At the same time though, her play was infused with humour that had the audience laughing out loud.  It seemed that through her humour she was able to tackle the difficult realities that she has had to face being a reporter for CTV and APTN and being the second generation Residential school survivor.  She told the audience, “It’s okay to be Indian.  It’s okay to be messed up and talk about it.”  I would like to thank her for that, because it seems that as Aboriginal people we are constantly being inundated with horrible images of ourselves as people who get drunk and leave our children out in the cold to die. 

Despite these sad tales, Shaneen Robinson’s humour reminds us that there is also much to celebrate about being Aboriginal.  She utilizes Aboriginal colloquialisms in the most humorous ways.  She read to us a scene from her play about two women travelling on a bus to Norway House, Manitoba were there is an Indian reserve.  One woman is an Aboriginal adoptee, Della-Rose and another is a local Indian from Norway House, Pixie. 

Pixie: Where’d you grow up:
Della-Rose: Guelph
Pixie: Guelph Eh?.. Any other Neechi’s around there?
Della-Rose: Neechi’s?
Pixie: Guess not.
Della-Rose: You mean like Aboriginal people?
Pixie: Yeah…Aboriginal people (snickers).
Della-Rose: No not really…I met a couple of Mohawks when my family drove through Caledonia when I was a kid.
Pixie: Are you serious?
Pixie: Mmm hmm (sarcastically).
Della-Rose: I didn’t know I was Native until about 15 years ago…I thought I was Mexican.
Pixie: Mexican?  You can tell you’re a neech from a mile away…why the hell would you think you were Mexican?

This is the type of humour that is presented throughout Shaneen Robinson’s play.  It reminds us that it is not only okay to be Indian, but it is also okay to make fun of yourself and be able to laugh about it.  Through such humour, it was possible to tackle the difficult stories Shaneen Robinson had to tell us.

Again, this presenter so bravely illustrated how she had been able to strike a balance in her life as so many of the other presenters did as well.  Which was truly inspiring for me as I have struggled to find a balance and find peace with my identity?  Equally as inspiring were all the presenters.  While Steven Loft illustrated the dilemma Aboriginal artists confront when attempting to enter the mainstream, Don Kelly, Tom Jackson and Michael Massie illustrated how to be at peace with being an Indian living in both worlds of traditional Aboriginal life and modern life.  The important message I took with me was, it is okay to be an Indian in the city.  You are none-the-less a real Indian.

SF 

 

My initial experience of this year’s New Sun Conference was influenced by my position at the registration table; I was unable to move away into the conference hall, but I met each audience member as they entered this space. Working the registration table I was able to witness the large and highly diverse audience that attended the conference. These people represented a wide range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.  There were families, students, teachers, professionals and people who were just interested. People brought their friends, their colleagues and their children along with them.  Most of those attending the conference arrived on time to give them time to greet people they knew would be there, who they often had met at previous years conferences.

The lobby that was filled with people emptied rapidly just before nine thirty as everyone assembled in the lecture hall for the start of the conference. There was an electric anticipation that hung over the waiting crowd as Dr. Allan Ryan moved up to the podium to introduce the day. During the following hour I waited outside, still at the registration table. I didn’t hear the first presenter, Don Kelly, but I heard the laughter that swept the crowd during his talk. Outside, I witnessed a different kind of magic.

During the first hour of the conference I was at the registration table to welcome and direct the stragglers. These latecomers arrived in bunches, tiptoeing around the lobby with obvious shame that weighed upon them like oversized dunce caps. Here were people who were used to the conventional academic conference format where the hushed and formal atmosphere makes the noise of any small disturbance fill the lecture room. These latecomers were prepared to enter into a space that was hostile to them. I like to think that it was my friendly greeting that helped them to feel safe, but I know it was the atmosphere of the conference itself. The hall was not hushed and stiff but a hub of activity and life.  The speakers confronted the conventional conference format by encouraging audience reactions, especially laughter which often bubbled through the crowd. These speakers were not self-sufficient scholars who could have given their talks to an empty hall; they were dependant on their audience for their spontaneous responses to the speakers’ ideas. For example, Tom Jackson often asked the audience for suggestions on what he should play. The discussion periods after the presentations served as forums where listeners could ask about a speaker’s work or give suggestions. This necessity for response produced two remarkable effects. First, all those implicated in the conference worked together to build a safe and positive space where anyone could express themselves freely. This meant that all those latecomers found themselves able to walk into the room without shame because they were valuable to all those inside the hall. Also, it was the presence of viewers that was important. People were free to engage and play spontaneously with the lectures using their memories and imaginations. This meant that all of my stragglers were immediately drawn into the talks, allowing their feelings of embarrassment to fall to the side.

The content of the lectures by the diverse speakers gave the conference an unfathomable richness. I was unable to attend Don Kelly’s performance. Over lunch, I discussed it with my fellow diners who relayed the casual and playful atmosphere that this speaker imbued the conference with right from its start. Don Kelly’s discussion of the hilarious obstacles he has faced as a city-dwelling Aboriginal person trying to participate in more traditional activities such as trapping and fishing made people feel at ease. This ease was because Don Kelly used humor as a form of discourse which culturally sanctions dynamic engagement through play and denies any potential for error.

The next speaker, Stephen Loft, the curator for Aboriginal art at the National Gallery of Canada contextualized the conference within a timeline of the development of Aboriginal self-determination in Canada’s art institutions. He introduced the National Gallery’s framing of Aboriginal art ten years ago and asked the poignant question: How far have we come since then?” Stephen Loft argued that there are now powerful leaders within Canada’s institutions who are continually contributing to a new discourse on Aboriginal art. However, there is still a glass ceiling which prevents Aboriginal heads of institutions and equal employment of Aboriginal people. This glass ceiling also imposes barriers to Aboriginal success within academic institutions. The solution lies, according to Loft, in the creation of a space where an Aboriginal aesthetic can be displayed and where issues of cultural sovereignty can be addressed. The speaker believes that a national institution which has the power to engage in a wider cultural transmission is the best place for this kind of space to be realized. Stephen Loft allowed the content of the rest of the conference to move beyond the confines of a culturally specific category.

Shaneen Robinson’s discussion of her most recent theatrical work was an ideal follow-up to Loft’s discussion because it involved the audience emotionally and drew out spontaneous reactions. This allowed any feelings of intimacy lost during Loft’s more academic style lecture to be regained. Shaneen’s writing style combined a number of personal narratives of Aboriginal people who have impacted her life into one cohesive story. This gave Robinson’s play a universality that refuses becoming unbelievable because it remained tied to events which actually took place. Shaneen Robinson addressed political and cultural oppression of Aboriginal people and she used her work as a call to action. She emphasized the importance of healing, especially healing the minds of those who have experienced or witnessed trauma. She also acknowledged that the road to healing is filled with barriers that frustrate and perplex. It is through reclamation of history and through an assertion of Aboriginal voice that these barriers can be overcome.

After lunch, the viewers of the conference were entertained by Michael Massie, a mixed heritage (Inuit and Scottish) silversmith and stone sculptor from Labrador. Massie’s work uses both visual and textual punning to address his position straddling two cultural worlds. In his work, Massie moves beyond the traditional regional styles that have defined Inuit art in the contemporary period. His art practice revolves around aesthetic self-expression which allows him to keep in touch with both cultural branches of his heritage. Michael Massie’s silversmithing and carving demonstrates technical excellence and as Ingo Hessel notes about those he calls “post-contemporary Inuit artists” (130), his practice “transcends commonly held perceptions about Inuit art because it does not capitalize on its ethnicity” (130).

The final presenter at the conference was Tom Jackson, a musician, actor and humanitarian who has become a Canadian icon. As Jackson’s arresting figure moved up to the podium, the atmosphere in the lecture hall became hushed and reverent. Jackson spoke with a low and rumbling voice. He took frequent pauses in his talk, which worked only to further captivate his audience. However, instead of immobilizing his audience with his presence, Jackson engaged us with stories and jokes, with music and drama. His message paralleled that of Shaneen Robinson; he called all people in the hall to action. What was different about Tom Jackson’s message was his emphasis on the need for broader humanitarian efforts which are not culturally specific. He stated that his personal success has come from how he has chosen to overcome the obstacles of his past. Tom Jackson’s message brought his audience together as a community by revealing the potential of such a group to act collaboratively on his messages.  

The 2009 New Sun Conference was a remarkable experience which opened up an entirely new type of learning environment. The conventional didactic approach was thrown aside in favor of alternative interpretation, influenced highly by Aboriginal world views. The conference favored active reactions by the community over the passive lecture format. Changes in the didactic approach took place at three distinct levels. Dr. Allan Ryan’s choice of such a diverse range of speakers for the conference demonstrated a desire to move away from Western conference conventions at the organizational level. The delicious lunch of Aboriginal cuisine where audience members were accompanied by a performance by Tom Jackson also accomplished this.  The speakers who relied upon their audience’s reactions and laughter demonstrated a departure from typical lecture modes at another level. The audience of the conference was not purely academic. This varied crowd allowed for the silent and immobilizing atmosphere of the scholarly conference to be interrupted and disturbed.  Together, the organization, the audience and the content of the New Sun Conference proved to all those present that the contemporary Canadian university has the potential and flexibility to accommodate an alternative to the scholarly conference. This different style is less exclusive, allowing people of all education levels, ages and cultures to attend and participate. A wider adoption of this conference style would allow for a greater dissemination of new ideas into the community.  The proof of the potential of this type of event is evident in the hugely increasing number of patrons it attracts each year. The New Sun Conference has shown us that the contemporary university is not a monolithic and static institution. It is porous, fluid, and it can accommodate a broad range of events. Unfortunately, the New Sun Conference is a rarity. The potential of the university is rarely acted upon, conservatively maintaining its insular structure. 

Hessel, Ingo, Inuit Art: An Introduction, (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1998).

MD

 

Dear Dr. Ryan,

     For some reason these conference reflections seem to want to be written as a letter to you.  There may be pros and cons to this, but it is what it is.  What it does do is give me the opportunity to thank you for organizing such a spiritual and life-affirming conference.  What I will do in terms of reflection is follow the order of the day, the flow of the day, which also gives me the chance to re-experience what for me were the noteworthy or high points along the way.

     A word or two of background, because it certainly helped attune my receptiveness to the day.  At this point in my life I’m particularly open to new experiences, new ways of perceiving and understanding the world.  I’m more than ever before open to stories.  I’m discovering the world of art to be a portal for me; a window through which life can be perceived and experienced in a deeply spiritual way.  Picasso did say something once along the lines of, ‘…find beauty everywhere, find what you need to live, in a leaf, a stone…’  And given my long-standing interest in aboriginal life, aboriginal worlds, the prospect of a day-long immersion in aboriginal arts and, by extension, spirituality, felt wonderful to me. 

     At a more prosaic level I was especially excited about the prospect of seeing slides of Michael Massie’s work, and I’d invited a new friend, whom I’d recently learned has held a life-long interest in aboriginal art, to attend the conference with me.  So we came together to this conference with a sense of adventure and anticipation.

     What was probably most impactful for me overall was the experiential and multi-faceted aspect of the conference.  I believe this provided for a greater depth and breadth of learning than would a purely didactic presentation.  It’s learning in a holistic, multi-sensorial manner which in turn encourages a response to the material at multiple levels.  The experiential focus invited us to bring all of ourselves to the learning process.  To receive humour, prayer, song, food, academics, visual images…to be read out loud to!  All were intensely engaging experiences.  I appreciated the inclusiveness of the conference, the openness to different modes of expression which I think was reflected in the broad cross-section of participants:  aboriginal and non-aboriginal, academic and non-academic, old and young.  I think all of these qualities of the conference contributed to it feeling like a ‘safe place’ for sharing by the presenters, as you’d referred to in class. 

     To begin, then.  Elder Jim Albert, speaking to us with thought and feeling, setting the “spiritual framework” for the day.  His words helped to bring us together as a small community for the day.  He also gave us the first taste of what to consider with regards to the conference theme, “Inspiring Resilience”.  I felt what he referred to was very important:  the need to celebrate what we have, to ground ourselves in the joy of living, in order to better enable us to cope with difficult experiences and issues.  To me it spoke to a need for a flow back and forth between the two, a balance in life, and that the creation of such a balance is key to ‘inspiring resilience’.  Resilience implies resourcefulness, and we need to use every means possible, including art, song, humour and stories in our efforts to grow and to make sense of our world.

     I think it was great planning (or serendipity!) to have Don Kelly as the first speaker.  His humour continued to weave the threads of community within the audience.  I was struck by his message, as exemplified in the episode clips, that learning happens best through doing, screwing up, and laughing!  What a wonderful concept.  As he expressed it, people in the episodes are invited to be themselves, and we could see the slow smiles emerging on the faces of those teaching him traditional skills as they learned they could have fun at it…humour is an effective bridge between people, between actor and audience, aboriginal and non-aboriginal.  It increases understanding by breaking down defenses and allowing us to join with others.  Humour situates us on common ground.  What an enormous relief to have the ‘seriousness’ removed sometimes from issues and be allowed to look at them in a more human way.

     From Steven Loft’s presentation I gained a sense of ‘the lay of the land’:  how indigenous art is beginning to be recognized within broader artistic and academic contexts in Canada.  At the same time he mapped out for us what he feels still needs to happen in terms of including indigenous art in university curricula and a wider analytical discourse.  I think his presentation might have been more effective if he had NOT read, essentially verbatim, from an earlier talk of his—too much content delivered far too quickly to do it justice.  Nevertheless, I think he managed to impart a sense of the excitement, challenge and urgency that exists at this time in the field of indigenous art and its broader contexts.

        Shaneen Robinson was an inspiration.  At this point in the conference I stopped taking notes, set my pen down and simply listened to her.  I found her courageous in her level of self-disclosure, her ability to speak about difficult issues and events and in her sharing of excerpts from her play.  She herself embodied the ‘inspiring resilience’ theme by demonstrating humour, compassion and a love of life while also speaking about tough issues.  In her desire to create an honest portrayal of Dellarose’s life, with all of its nuances and dark shadows, she gives permission to other young aboriginal writers to convey the fullness and complexity of their own reality (or their characters’ reality).  Her courage and honesty are tools that will help bridge the gap in understanding between aboriginals and non-aboriginals.  Specifically in her role as writer, how wonderful to hear her animate her own work and share with us how she peopled her play with family members and others whose stories and lives she considered important.  In her view real people, attractive and not so attractive, all deserved a place in her play.

     Alright, now for the best part.  Lunch.  But not just because of the food!  It was at this point for me that a number of things came together:  the sense of community as we sat around large tables, the experience of the food itself, and the life messages and shared intimacy of Tom Jackson’s music.  It was a nourishing event at numerous levels.  Tom Jackson wove more threads of community among the audience—I could almost literally see connecting strands mingling in the air among peoples’ heads as I looked across the room.  I felt we were in the presence of a spiritual person.  I’ve printed out the words to “Desperado” by the Eagles, which he sang.  Later when he spoke with us it was clear that this is a man who conveys messages of hope, compassion, love of life and helping others, through the life he himself leads.  He provided a way forward to become agents of change within our own lives.  “Change YOUR life, and the rest will follow”.  He has demonstrated creative resiliency in his own life, overcoming drug issues and emerging as a creative and spiritual person with a strong humanitarian vision.  He spoke to us in the language of the spirit.  What he shared with us was a gift.

     Michael Massie’s slides of sculptural teapots lived up to my expectations.  It was astonishing to see the outpouring of creativity revolving around his central theme and to see how humour and visual punning was incorporated in his work.  I appreciated being able to share in the stories and inspirations behind each of his creations—yet another example of how the artist’s voice provides context for their art and enriches the experience of the artwork itself.

     Again, Jim Albert’s contribution to the conference was, for me, critical—from establishing the “spiritual framework” at the beginning to wrapping up the conference and guiding us in our reflections. Through him I could hear universality speaking.

     My final comments belong to New Sun/Joy MacLaren.  She was familiar to me with her walker and dark wrap-around sunglasses—then I realized where I’d seen her before:   she supports vision research at the University of Ottawa Eye Institute (my workplace) and funds a Chair held by one of our colleagues.  I of course was unaware of her fascinating connection to the aboriginal world.  A woman of philanthropy and vision.  I loved how she threw out challenges to the group:  to plant seeds, to include in next year’s conference programming an exposure to fibre/textile art, incorporating beadwork and quillwork—skills which she feels are being lost. Her words about textile art struck a strong chord with me—as I’ve contemplated beginning my own art it’s been within the world of fibre/textile/multi-media that I see myself working.  I found myself wondering where I could learn those skills of beadwork or quillwork…

     New Sun was also inspirational to me in her role as a non-aboriginal person who has been able to enter into and share deeply the aboriginal world. It gives me hope that aboriginals and non-aboriginals can learn from each other, borrow from each other what speaks to us spiritually…the words “Knock Knock Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” run through my mind.

     Thank you again for organizing the conference; I’ll be back next year.  Perhaps I should reserve a ticket now…!

JK

 

Empowerment, Transference and Renewal:
A New Sun Conference Reflection

            The 8th Annual New Sun Conference at Carleton University lived up to its theme of “inspiring resilience.” The stories, artworks and ideas of the presenters inspire positive energy and hope for the future. Studying Aboriginal issues and learning about the negative consequences of colonialism, it is clear that the Aboriginal experience in Canada can largely be characterized by loss: loss of language, culture, traditions and people. However, Indigenous people demonstrate a surprising ability to recover from the tragedies and renew their cultures. Learning about the cultural reclamation reflected within Native communities can counterbalance the negativity we hear about in the media and the classroom. It was uplifting to hear the success stories of individual Aboriginal artists, who display genuine resilience on the journey to decolonization. They are finally beginning to gain some recognition for their unique cultural perspectives and artworks. Knowing that these artists hold important positions as educators and role models, to their Nations, greater Aboriginal communities and within Canada, is certainly inspirational. In this paper, I will examine the ways in which the presenters create art, empower themselves, transfer cultural information and renew indigenous cultures.

            Don Kelly, the first presenter, was talking about his APTN series Fish Out of Water. As he pointed out, the show portrays the way Aboriginal people teach and learn: by doing. The audience, whether they have experience in the bush or not, can watch the cultural interaction and learn more about how to live off the land. In this way it outlines the spectrum of Aboriginal life, detailing both land-based and contemporary/urban lifestyles. Implicit in this show is the range of experience of Indigenous people. Whether they grew up in the bush, like many of the Elders/teachers, or grew up as “concrete Indians” like Kelly himself, they represent an important component of Aboriginal life; there are many ways to be Indigenous. Unlike the stereotypes of Indians in the dominant culture, that are fixed and unchanging, Aboriginal culture is adaptable. However, Fish Out of Water also demonstrates the importance of getting together to teach and learn. This allows for the transference of valuable cultural information and the validation of the multiple indigenous identities.

            Fish Out of Water reveals the humourous approach and “comic worldview” that is common throughout Native cultures. Kelly uses his improvisational style of humour, cracking jokes and making ridiculous comments the whole way along. The Elders/teachers too, reveal that they don’t take life too seriously. Kelly told us that when the camera crew arrives the Elders/teachers often get really serious, but after seeing that everyone is joking around, they get a little twinkle in their eyes, thinking “oh, we can have fun on this show!” Then they realize that they can just be themselves. Their humour definitely has a place on Fish Out of Water. In spite of the comic nature of the show, the subject matter is not trivial. The Elders/teachers are able to pass on valuable cultural survival skills to future generations and the wider Canadian public. The audience is able to connect with Indigenous traditions, even if their feet have never left the concrete. However, as Kelly demonstrates, this serious cultural renewal and transference doesn’t have to be stern and humourless. In keeping with the Aboriginal tradition, Kelly doesn’t take himself too seriously. Fish Out of Water is a refreshing look at contemporary Indigenous life in Canada.

            Whereas APTN is concerned with packaging culture for predominantly Aboriginal audiences, the National Gallery of Canada showcases art to predominantly non-Aboriginal viewers. For Stephen Loft, as a curator of the gallery, this has meant that his job is largely to challenge the gallery to represent Aboriginal art and history in its collections. This is no small task for Loft, as he explained, galleries tend to have more pictures of Indians than by them, even to this day. Challenging the “default of whiteness” is therefore an important job of gallery curators, like Loft, who understand the importance of Aboriginal representation. Heavily critical of the Canadian government, museums and galleries, Loft also criticized the Universities for not hiring representational numbers of Aboriginal faculty as well as not teaching Indigenous fine art and art history nearly enough in the classrooms. As he pointed out, this underrepresentation is not only damaging to Aboriginal Canadians, but to the greater Canadian non-Aboriginal population as well. It is fundamentally important that we all have an opportunity to learn Indigenous history and about contemporary culture. Interacting with art provides a viable forum for cross-cultural education.

            Loft showed us a number of photographs of the art in the Aboriginal collection at the National Gallery. The piece that stood out for me was Rebecca Belmore’s Talking to their Mother. This piece, a whale-sized megaphone, originally placed on the mountainside, was intended for Native people to speak to mother earth. My interpretation is that at one point in time, when people were living on the land, people were able to talk to mother earth. However now, as people live in cities, to some extent we have lost touch with the earth and its needs. Also, on a broader level, human beings now disrespect the earth by polluting the air, land and water. In our lifestyles and daily practices we have moved far away from a relationship of respect with the earth. Since we are too far removed, physically and philosophically, from the earth for the earth to hear us, the megaphone represents a way to initiate that discussion once again. It underlines the importance of caring for mother earth. It is a powerful piece that carries with it an important environmental message. But the piece has another layer of meaning. In the context of the gallery, where it has now been moved, it represents the difficulties that Loft discussed in getting Aboriginal voices heard by Canada. In the gallery, the megaphone was pointed toward a large window, facing the parliament buildings. Now, a new layer of meaning is revealed. The giant megaphone represents the challenge of Aboriginal people speaking out: to mother earth, to the government of Canada, to everyone.

            Shaneen Robinson also spoke about the importance of finding her voice. She explained how her father’s generation was silenced and even internalized the silence by burying painful experiences and refusing to talk about them. However, Robinson sees this silence ending with her generation, as young Aboriginal people find and develop their voice. Through her play Notay Kiskintamowin: “Wanting to Know,” Robinson explores many issues that affect urban Native people, such as loss of identity, drugs and alcohol and poverty. She can use her writing as a safe way of working through these stories, many portray events that actually happened to people she knows. Characterizing Aboriginal people as “natural artists,” Robinson explains how art is a way to revalue culture and honor her ancestors’ experiences through her work. She also spoke about women’s responsibilities for children, each other and the greater communities and how each woman must struggle at times with the weight of these responsibilities.  Robinson finds strength in connecting with the Elders in her community and spoke about how when she feels lost, she seeks their advice and guidance. Through a connection to cultural values and traditional people, Robinson empowers herself to overcome obstacles on her journey.

            Tom Jackson also spoke about having to overcome obstacles on his journey through life. As a young man he became addicted to drugs and managed to get his life back on track. The story that he told us about how he began to heal really resonated with me. He said that if you need help, the best thing you can do for yourself, is to help someone else. He did this for a man on the street that was having a medical emergency. He said, “I didn’t save that man’s life, he saved mine.” At that moment that Jackson decided to get off drugs; he decided that he didn’t want to end up like this man on the street. This kind of healing journey is moving like a wave through Aboriginal communities. Empowerment comes through acknowledging the painful experiences of the past--both collectively and individually--and finding ways to heal. Through the generosity of assisting others, people can discover ways to heal themselves. Jackson has taken the ‘help someone else’ mission to a whole new level; through his musical performance fundraisers and generosity, he has raised millions of dollars for food services. This spirit of generosity is incredible. Jackson is able to use art to feed hungry Canadians. This kind of humanitarian activism can truly benefit the future of our country, across all cultural boundaries.

            When learning about contemporary Aboriginal issues, it is easy to become hyper-focused on loss and subsequently fail to notice the gains that are being made by Aboriginal people. As a student of these issues, I am sometimes overwhelmed by negativity and sadness for the losses suffered by Indigenous peoples as a result of colonization. This depiction of loss is also the focus in the media, as well as in Universities; the problems in Native societies usually overshadow the positive stories. The ‘downtrodden Indian’ has become yet another monolithic stereotype, not unlike the age-old stereotypes about Native people that have gone before it. This is not to minimize the very real problems faced by Aboriginal people currently Canada. However, within this context, it is equally, if not more, important to highlight the positive stories and to recognize the resilience of indigenous people and cultures.  The New Sun Conference, through showcasing Aboriginal art and broadcasting success stories, reflects the regeneration that is occurring all across the country. Hearing these stories reminds us of the strength of Aboriginal peoples to renew their cultures in the face of colonialism. They speak of hope, of empowerment and of the brighter future for Indigenous people in Canada.

ES

 

My first impression of this year’s New Sun Conference came from the awesome marketing material. The poster and the companion programme with their simple and powerful design were a great touch and well worth whatever percentage of budget they used. I put the poster up on my office door and had people stopping constantly to see what it was about (although we’re not supposed to have stuff on our doors so maybe it was the sheer novelty of it). It will definitely be there until the tape gives out.

Elder Jim Albert’s words are always appreciated. I liked what he said about us “not celebrating enough” and his idea that the New Sun Conference itself is a celebration. Don Kelly was the perfect way to follow up this notion, as his presentation was a real celebration. It is always great to laugh with a room full of people. 

Hearing Kelly’s presentation and watching the clips from Fish Out of Water I was suddenly struck by the prominent teaching aspect of not just the show but of Kelly’s art in general. I have seen and enjoyed Kelly’s stand-up before but it now stands out.  This brought Loretta Todd’s long essay in Transference, Technology, Transformation to mind. (I can’t help but see everything through the filter of Todd’s essay now.) Todd contrasts Plato’s myth of the cave, with its idea of people in darkness and ignorance coming into the light of knowledge, with an Aboriginal worldview wherein the people themselves are knowledge. She explains how this affects the way Aboriginal people transfer knowledge, govern themselves and maybe even how they make movies. Kelly’s comments about “learning by doing”, “screwing up” and making mistakes, but not making a big deal of mistakes seem to speak to these ideas.

I liked Kelly’s take on culture. He points out how the people he meets on Fish Out of Water are as at home on the land as they are when they are ordering Chinese food and watching television. “We’re not frozen in amber”, he said. He also called Aboriginal people “adapters” and early adopters – again Todd pops up. She is also of the opinion that Aboriginal people were forward-looking and avid and early adopters of the technologies that appeared abruptly after contact with the “Old World.”

“It’s like the Metis culture in general … it’s not that you’re caught between two worlds, you have the best of both worlds.” What a great approach to take to thorny identity issues.
_____________

Steven Loft made light of the difficulty of following up Kelly, but somehow the contrast between the two made for the best transition between speakers of the day. I’m not sure why this was exactly, but it seemed very organic. Actually, Loft had nothing to worry about, because after Kelly the audience was wide-awake and ready for more. Also Loft had an ace up his sleeve with that priceless slide of the Harper cabinet dwarfed (in so many ways) by Norval Morrisseau’s awe-inspiring canvas at Rideau Hall. “With one notable exception, the irony of this photo is lost on everybody in it,” said Loft. That was so great. And what a gracious act by Michaëlle Jean to have that painting at Rideau Hall. That photo really drove home the “inspiring resilience” theme. History had played out so tragically for Aboriginal people, but when you see those powerful people looking so small under that work of art you quickly remember that this is Indian land. History is not over yet.

Loft’s overview of the Aboriginal art world was a real whirlwind; I spent most of his presentation trying to keep up. He packed a ton of information in there. His background on the National Gallery’s Morrisseau exhibit was particularly fun to hear, and I was scribbling names and stuff to look up later the entire time: Tom Hill, Alex Janvier, Rebecca Belmore, Bob Boyer, the MacKenzie Gallery and The Spirit Sings. In passing, I think it was in response to a question, Loft mentioned the “controversial” Glenbow exhibit “The Spirit Sings”. A bell rang for me then as I’ve had a copy of a book called The Spirit Sings, that  bought at a used bookstore, on my shelf for years. I have flipped through this book for interest or inspiration dozens of times, but knew nothing about the background of the 1988 exhibit. Thanks to Loft and the internet I’m a little wiser now.

I found compelling Loft’s idea that Aboriginal art must be considered in a “totally culturally specific environment” (by this I think he means within it’s own traditions and histories) and in the wider context of Canadian and world art. The sheer number of artists and the range of artistic expression that was evident in Loft’s slideshow certainly backed him up. He also said that a new language is necessary for this purpose. I was not able to completely follow his argument on this one, but it brought to mind some of the issues we’ve seen played out in class. Particularly, Chris Eyre’s notion of film as a language you watch and how he wondered if a film made with the syntax of a distinctly Aboriginal visual language could be accepted by a mainstream audience.

At one point Loft evoked an image of innumerable “faceless and nameless” Aboriginal artists of history. This made me think of the creator(s) of the G’psgolox pole, but also of the carvers featured in Gil Cardinal’s documentary [Totem: The Return of the G’psgolox Pole] who carved the replica poles. I watched that film at least three times and I have no idea what those fellows’ names are!
___________

I was struck by Shaneen’s description of herself as mixed (I can’t recall if she said mixed blood or mixed race or simply mixed), in that she is Cree and Gitxsan. But, of course that is a stark contrast in culture. The term First Nations represents a plural after all.

The idea of disparate cultures and how they do or do not go together was a theme throughout the day. Kelly was exploring how traditional ways fit into a modern world and the urban Aboriginal experience versus the reservation one. Loft updated us on the struggle with cultural imperialism. Yet there’s a positive aspect to cultural mixing too. Shaneen attributed her “balance” in life to her dual backgrounds. Don Kelly thought that Métis culture could represent the best of both worlds.

Michael Massie deals with these issues in a very direct way by creating wild amalgams of traditional Inuit stonework and traditional European silver-smithing that also have a very contemporary sensibility.  One thing that struck me about Massie’s work was the amount of humour in it. Massie himself was quite a low-key presenter, but his work is a real carnival of influences and expression.

Humour was a big element of the conference. Being entertainers by trade, Kelly and Tom Jackson peppered their presentations with jokes. Loft brought a sardonic wit to his talk. Shaneen motivated a lot of laughter through the force of her animated, open personality. I thought this thread of humour spoke to the “inspiring resilience” theme.
___________

The lunch and concert were terrific, of course. You really get your $25 worth at the New Sun Conference. Where else can you get a meal and concert of that quality for that kind of money in Ottawa?! Tom Jackson is a hoot and he obviously loves to perform. His lunch hour concert reminded me of Métis gatherings I’ve had the good fortune to be a part of that last deep into the evening and inevitably end up around a campfire. Soon, the guitars come out and the guys of Jackson’s generation start playing old cowboy songs.
___________

I knew Tom Jackson from his extensive television work and Christmas benefit concerts, but I didn’t know much of his biography and I had never heard him speaking in the capacity he did at the New Sun Conference. He has a unique story-telling style that was downright hypnotic. I was fascinated to hear about his experiences at Wounded Knee in 1973 and how that encounter with violence changed his outlook on life. Jackson said, “War is war. Life is life. Death is death. And that’s that.” Indeed.

One thing I did know about Jackson before the conference was that he appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation in the mid 1990’s. He actual played a character that was Aboriginal. The character was named Lakanta and he was the sort of shaman/medicine man that is so sadly common in mainstream media. In Jackson’s TNG episode a population of Aboriginal people have left earth and in a bizarre, but probably unintended (by the shows creators) twist have “colonized” a world deep in space. Why am I going on about Star Trek? Well, as silly as all that is, the idea of a living, thriving Aboriginal civilization in the 24th century is a heartening one.

Shelley Niro’s film It Starts with a Whisper was made in 1992 and is set on New Year’s Eve of that year. That year marked the quincentenary of Columbus’ fateful voyage and there were all kinds of Columbus “celebrations” and “tributes”. The ’92 Olympics in Barcelona were dedicated to Columbus. Of course, there was also a great deal of counter-point to all this from indigenous people.

In Lawrence Abbot’s interview with Niro she says, “[It Starts with a Whisper] was really made for the end of 1992 when a lot of people were making art pertaining to the issues of Columbus… [The film] was designed so that it would be shown New Year’s Eve 1992, and it was designed so that screening of the film would end at midnight, so we’d catapult ourselves into the rest of the history of the world.”

Now we’ve really conjured an image of resilience. Five hundred years back and 500 years forward. Time immemorial as a two-way street.

MS

 

Inspiring Resilience – The power of Aboriginal culture
A Personal Reflection

“We have no being beyond our stories” 
N. Scott Momaday, Native poet

I stepped off the elevator into my first sweetgrass atmosphere: bustling and friendly.  People happy to be there.  I didn’t feel as foreign as I anticipated.  But what was that smell?  Marijuana?  I stepped into the registration line but looked longingly at the coffee machines.  I offered to get the woman behind me a coffee if she’d save my place.  Instead, she got me a coffee.   Inside, I found a seat next to my friend Jeannie, took off my coat and figured out how to sit in my chair.  The day began. 

It was one of those rare occasions (for me) when activities are introduced and closed with a smudge ceremony and prayer to the Creator.  Jim Elder set the tone: we were on Algonquin territory to celebrate all of us coming together from our different lives and cultures.  To “build up the light and joy side of our lives.”  He asked us to “be here with yourself – with your heart, not just your head”; to connect.

Like Jim Elder, Carleton University President Roseann O’Reilly Runte had thought carefully about her words of welcome.  She referred to the ‘old earth’ and how it doesn’t belong to us, that we are its custodians.  She described culture as something we share with each other but as something that can also divide us.  She closed by saying that art, which is the best side of human beings, has the power to bridge these divides.
As the day unfolded, we witnessed the art of humour.  Humour wove its way through every presentation and had the effect of including everyone.  Jim Elder’s prayer was answered – we did all come together.

Don Kelly was the first presenter.  I watch very little television, so I didn’t know what to expect.  Don Kelly, the “concrete Indian”, spoke to me about taking risks and making myself vulnerable.  Like all the Native speakers, he referred to his Ojibway, Anishinabe ancestry.  He showed clips from his TV show, Fish Out of Water, in which he plays a typical urban Native who has lost touch with traditional ways of life and traditional values.  He showed how Native elders teach – by giving a few guidelines and then throwing you into the action so you learn by your mistakes.  The elders relaxed and joked with him.  It was impressive to hear Kelly say that, in his worst scene, where his horse bucked him off and he landed on the ground winded, that he kept smiling, kept his actor’s mask on, throughout the ordeal.  He kept humour in the forefront.

In one of his clips, an elder in Siska, Alberta told a story about Crowfoot and Sitting Bull, a whip and a guitar.  I had a personal interest in the story because I’d heard that my ancestor, Col. James MacLeod, among other things, treatied with Crowfoot.  However, I didn’t get a clear idea of the story and would like to follow it up in future.

Later on a wonderful thing happened in response to Kelly’s presentation: a student commented that she came from Lac Labiche, and had heard that the new culture camp (that Kelly had featured in his show) was successful in getting young Natives in touch with their Elders.

Kelly slipped key points into his narrative, such as: Natives are reclaiming their culture; Native teaching techniques are effective and need to be adopted by the mainstream teachers; Native dance and story-telling is central to Native culture and Native ability to adapt and adopt new ideas and technologies makes them resilient.

Steven Loft’s task was the most difficult: coming from an institution that has a long history of ignoring Aboriginal art, he had to show how things have changed.  And  they have.  He illustrated this by reading us an excerpt from a talk he gave ten years ago about the urgent need for Canadian institutions like universities and colleges and the National Gallery of Canada, to train Native curators and to collect Native art.  I liked hearing the story he told of the meeting in which Dene artist Alex Janvier pointed out to Heritage Minister Sheila Copps that the National Gallery had never had a solo show of a Native artist.  He then went on to list the many Native artists who are now in the spotlight, including Cape Dorset artist Napachie Pootoogook whose show was “packed” in Germany.  Loft also mentioned Morrisseau’s solo show at the National Gallery and upcoming exhibits by Carl Beam and Daphne Odjig. Other names he mentioned were: Rebecca Belmore, Bob Boyer, Brian Jungen, Kenojuak and Marianne Nicolson.  For me, one of the most memorable points that Steven made was the fact that Governor General Micheal Jean is insisting that Norval Morrisseau’s painting, Androgeny, be kept hanging in the ballroom of Rideau Hall, presiding over the many national and international events that take place in that room.

When Loft concluded and asked for comments, it was telling that New Sun stood up and asked him to use his voice to recognize the collection of the Glenbow Museum and to include more art from western Canada in the National Gallery.  Loft referred to the difficult relationships between the Glenbow and Banff Centre.  Did he know that New Sun’s father, Eric Harvey, founded the Glenbow?  It was a reminder of how delicate the relationships are between institutions and the need “to pursue the understanding of our differences” in Tom Jackson’s words.

After Steven Loft, Shaneen Robinson made her presentation.  She made the biggest impact on me personally.  Using her prize-winning play, Wanting to Know, as a vehicle for introducing difficult subjects, she opened herself up to us, relating the most personal things about herself and her family, always with humour close at hand.  My only regret was that we couldn’t hear her complete script.  She obviously has a brilliant talent for dialogue and story line.  Like the other speakers, she mentioned her nervousness, but even so, she brought in huge issues like the “60’s Scoop”, foster homes, alcoholism, and the powerful story of her MPP father, who, after Stephen Harper’s Apology last June, spoke for the first time in Cree in the legislature, of his experiences in residential schools.  It was the first time she had heard him describe the abuse he had experienced there.  It made me think of parents who experienced concentration camps during WWII but didn’t tell their children about it, to protect them from knowing that story too early in their lives.

It is good to talk about this pain.  Healing, providing important information, answering childrens’ questions.  Shaneen shows us how to open up.  Says it’s OK, it’s human to mess up.  And opening up breaks down barriers.

Shaneen’s tremendous strength shone through.  No wonder she is the first Aboriginal reporter for CTV Winnipeg.  She reminded me of Joe David’s mask, Just Be Yourself.

Michael Massie’s presentation after lunch, reminded me how stunning his silver work is.  I had seen his work at the National Gallery.  He told a story of parents keeping their experiences secret.  Only fifteen years ago, his mother finally spoke about growing up as an Inuit and Metis and being picked on by other children at school. She had not told her children about her heritage until she felt that they were mature enough to handle it. 

Then there was Tom Jackson.  The journey he took reminded me of the trickster Coyote who “refuses to be killed or contained, repeatedly springing back to life with increased determination and creative drive.”  I will never forget his response to the young woman who got out her cell phone to take his photograph when her phone went off instead.  She was totally embarrassed.  Jackson, with a smile on his face, walked up to her, pulled her gently out of her seat, and asked her friend to take a photo of her with him.  She of course, tried to explain that she had turned off her cell phone but was a big fan of his show North of Sixty and wanted to take his picture.  My mouth fell open as he approached her.  I was completely there, squirming with her and amazed by him.  He had grasped the situation and her feelings. On one hand, she had made a mistake and that was OK.  On the other hand, he saw it as a gift for him – the gift to give, as he described it.

I was also moved by Jackson’s cowboy story/song at lunch; the easterner wondering why a friend has gone to be a cowboy.  I related to the wolf howls, the northern lights and the soaring hawks in the song which reminded me of walks I used to take with my uncle on winter nights along a frozen river outside Calgary, wrapped in buffalo hides.

Jackson’s main theme gradually emerged: First Nations people are born to give.  Give of themselves, give their art, give their humour.  Someone asked him how to deal with depression.  His answer: “Go ahead and help somebody…History tells us that we will always have the haves and the have-nots.  It’s up to us to close the gap.  That’s why we are here.”

Jackson’s reaction to being shot at during the 1973 occupation at Wounded Knee was unique.  He saw it so clearly – the need to do something else than kill.  “Bullets or ballads”.  He chose ballads.  It wasn’t a smooth journey, but he now lives in love instead of fear.  According to him, he has created a successful life by giving music, acting and art and to charity.  When asked about teaching children, he gave clear instructions: 1) tell them you love them; 2) tell them you’re a student, not a teacher; 3) ask them “What’s wrong?”  and they will tell you.  He concluded with the recommendation to “pursue the understanding of our differences”.

New Sun – at first I felt awkward that I didn’t know who she was or her contribution.  I now think that she had probably asked not to be singled out but had thought that we would know who she was.  In the end I saw that it was her vision and Allan’s that we were witnessing in action.  We were fortunate enough to be present.

What did I get out of the conference?  I learned about the difference it makes to  get together with our hearts and not just our heads.  I saw the difference humour can make in communicating and I learned once more that by revealing yourself you make new things happen, you open up new conversations between people.  I saw that the act of giving is the greatest gift.  Now, putting these things into practice is the challenge!

JH

 

          This year’s New Sun Conference was my first experience with the event. Having gone to a few other conferences and lectures, which to be honest were rather boring but featured the pleasure of travelling, I found this to be a great improvement on the conference experience. At first glance, the space was warm and inviting, with people mingling with each other, and name tags made the interaction with others much more appealing. I was pleasantly surprised to see the president of Carleton there, and I think her appearance assisted in confirming the conference as a serious academic event. The opening prayer did more than signify the beginning of the conference; it was a way of uniting the participants.

Don Kelly

            I greatly appreciated the fact that Don Kelly was first to present. A bit of humour did me a lot of good at nine in the morning.  He presented a little about himself, and I appreciated that he approached the idea of the “cement Indian,” as it is an important concept. He reminded me a little of Jeff Thomas in that regard. Humour seems to have been the connecting element between the presentations, and for a conference, that is highly unusual. The whole event had a very different feel to it, which was great because for an academic event, the presenters had serious things to say, in a very unserious manner. I am glad that Don Kelly played a few clips from his show, as it is excellent. I have watched it on a few occasions on APTN, and seeing him talk about it made me realize how vulnerable he’s made himself for the show.

            Don expressed the manner in which aboriginal peoples learn by doing, and taught by their elders. The conference reinforced the importance of the elder with the opening prayer and the special regard given to New Sun. Don’s presentation also demonstrated that even the elders are humorous. He noted that when filmed for the show, the elders were always quite stoic, but realized quickly that they can actually have fun on the show. Don suggested that they felt that they were expected to be stoic.

            I especially appreciated Don’s comment that his show was about building bridges, which I suppose is part of what the New Sun conference is about. Fish Out of Water connects the rural and urban native, and through the knowledge of the elders, there is a balance created between the rural and urban. Don’s presentation really set the stage for the others, expressing that mistakes allow us to learn, and humour makes for a more comfortable experience.

Steven Loft

            Following Don’s very comedic presentation must have been very difficult for Steven Loft, and he did express this when he was preparing his presentation. I think that it was a good thing for Steven to follow Don, as it seemed to loosen him up a bit, and he also followed the trend of using humour in his presentation. Steven’s was the most informative presentation, and I think he addressed some of the most important issues in our government institutions. The information I found to be the most interesting was the idea that despite some changes occurring within the last ten years, the National Gallery of Canada is displaying and purchasing art by well-known aboriginal artists, but more can be done to support those who are up-and-coming.  Loft makes note of the new exhibits coming to the NGC, and the recent retrospective of Daphne Odjig’s work. He emphasized the importance of creating these sorts of exhibitions before these artists are gone.

            I think that including a more serious presenter, and also someone who currently works at the NGC was a very important element of the conference, as it gave a voice to the galleries, and a critical view as well. Steven’s presentation was both informative and also inspiring, and I think he gave the audience the inspiration to take a critical look at our public institutions. He was not condemning in his presentation, and was adamant in stressing that there has been some change in the last few years. He left it to the audience to decide if it was enough, and also if they are a part of that change.

Shaneen Robinson

            Including a young person as a presenter at the New Sun Conference was fantastic. I was very surprised by Shaneen’s age. She did come across as inexperienced, but it was forgivable because she is so young. She was also the most unprepared of the presenters, (probably because of the language in her play and the presence of children) but she managed to speak from the heart.  After getting over her initial nervousness, she gave a young voice to the presentation. She approaches some very serious subjects in her play, but approached the subject with humour. She also uses music and image in her play, and it includes real events from her own life. The presenters opened up to the audience and gave a lot of themselves to their presentations.

            Shaneen emphasized the importance of elders, especially women in the aboriginal community. But I think that Shaneen, without expressing it outright, demonstrated that everyone is an important component of the aboriginal community. She attempted to capture as much as she could in her play of the issues she faces in her own life, and created a piece which has universal appeal. The presenters managed to make the conference appeal to as many people as they could. It is a conference on aboriginal arts, but their presentations speak beyond the aboriginal community. This was important because of the diversity of the audience, and the variety of issues explored.

            The luncheon was excellent, and the buffet promoted conversation. I had an excellent conversation with a man and his daughter at the table, who have been coming to the conference for the past few years. The food was excellent, quite unusual for buffet style meals. I was impressed that the food was also relatively healthy (minus of course the pie). After dessert, we were joined by another group of people who were fans of Tom Jackson, and sang along with him during his performance. The inclusion of a musical performance was pleasant, especially as it was not considered to be background noise. Every person in the room gave their whole attention to Tom, and his songs followed the theme of humour in the presentations. The importance of community that was highlighted by the presenters had come to life during a luncheon and musical performance. I appreciated the short walk to Fenn Lounge, as it made the second half of the conference much more pleasant because I stretched my legs. Others appreciated this as well.

Michael Massie

            I enjoyed Michael Massie’s presentation the most. He was very enthusiastic about his work and like the other presenters, opened up to the audience by sharing his personal stories. Each of his teapots has a story, and he has a sense of humour in his work, especially with naming his pieces. Some of them were particularly funny and all of them are exceedingly beautiful. He respects the materials he uses and does not modify them, except for the etching process he uses on the metal surface. He also spoke of his trouble funding his work, and also of gathering materials. It was very nice to hear the voice of the artist in the interpretation of his pieces, and the importance of humour in art. His art, especially the tea sets, emphasizes the importance of community and family. Tea is often meant to be shared, and even though some of the pots are non-functional, they symbolically represent the sharing of tea. Even some of his pots reminded him of his family such as the piece “Walrusty” which reminded him of his brother.

            He also spoke of his sculptures, which like his teapots retain traditional elements of Inuit sculpture. The sculptures and pots have a sense of movement to them, and are in a sense “unfinished.” Massie appreciates the material, and wants the viewer to experience the material rather than how it takes in its surroundings. So he prefers not to polish his metal, and retain the hammered appearance. Massie’s work, like the others, builds bridges between communities. He explores his Inuit heritage, and combines it with western influences allowing his work to speak to a large audience.

Tom Jackson

            His approach to a presentation was very different from the others, but retained the same message of community. He gave the story of his life, and his beginnings with the Huron Carole. Tom’s message was to pursue the understanding of our differences. It made an excellent conclusion to the conference as he summed up the major point of each presenter, emphasizing tolerance. He relied less on humour, and more on the idea of love and song than the others, but also included humour in his speech. His talk inspired the idea of helping others, as finding someone who needs more help than you gives no greater rush.

            Jackson is also active in creating connections between people, as he is an active philanthropist and humanitarian. He discussed his work in raising money for the Canadian Association of Food Banks. Tom was very open to performing on the spot, and I have never heard the Huron Carol before this performance.  I am glad he gave a little history of the song before its performance. He opened himself to the audience and was very pleasant in answering questions, especially those in relation to the concept of love.

             Overall, I thought the conference to be quite pleasant and informative. The presenters represented a wide variety of aboriginal peoples, from different walks of life. Despite their differences, they expressed the same notion of creating bridges across cultural boundaries. The use of humour was refreshing and interesting, and made the conference more informal and enjoyable. The whole experience did not feel like a conference, but rather a series of informal lectures. The presenters were open with the audience, allowing themselves to be vulnerable. Their vulnerability and our open ears lead to a very pleasant day, creating cross-cultural bridges.

JW

 

 

 
A presentation of the New Sun Chair in Aboriginal Art and Culture
with the support of the Dean of Arts and Social Sciences and the New Sun Fund
administered by the Community Foundation of Ottawa .